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Preview: USA begin U-20 World Cup quest vs. Spain

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For Tab Ramos’ youngsters, the road leading up to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey has been long and arduous.

But all that preparation stops today, as the US begin their World Cup dream against Spain in Istanbul.

After a lengthy warm up in the Toulon tournament in France, Ramos’ men have finally reached Turkey, despite the tournament being under scrutiny due to the large anti-government protests currently going on in Istanbul and other cities.

However the games will go ahead and the USA find themselves in the dreaded “Group of Death” with Spain, France and Ghana.

Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Freddy Adu, DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard all shone for the US U-20 side in tournaments like this in the past. Who will follow suit for the Nats?

Whoever excels, these youngsters must grow up fast if the US U-20’s are going to make it to the knockout stages. With just one win from four games in Toulon, the USA came up against France, Colombia, South Korea and Congo DR. The step up in class showed from the CONCACAF tournament back in March when they lost to Mexico in the final.

Toulon was just a warmup and plenty of players were used to try and make decisions on who made the final roster. So you can’t read into those results too much. But now with Ramos’ squad settled, he will be counting on all of them to play a part in Turkey.

What they’re saying

Head coach Tab Ramos: “We feel very good about our roster and the players we have selected, and we certainly feel like we have good talent here with us. The thing about Spain is they play the same way in all age group. We just saw the U-21 team win the European Championships [in a 4-2 victory over Italy], playing the same way as the first team. Our first team upset Spain four years ago, and there’s no reason we can’t do that same thing on Friday.”

Luis Gil:Every game we have to respect the other team and give it our all. But against Spain we have to give it that extra push and be strong as a team. I feel like we will get through it.”

Key men

Ramos has scoured the globe for the best talent available to him, with a pool of over 75 players scrutinized by the former US star and his coaching staff. His squad of 21 players are currently playing in MLS, England, Mexico and Germany. And it is the MLSers who are attracting plenty of interest as the tournament is set to kick off. 19-year-old Seattle Sounders right back DeAndre Yedlin has received high praise from Ramos, with the youngster earmarked for a bright future. While Real Salt Lake’s Luis Gil has also been a regular in MLS this season, with the attacker set to give the US their creative spark. And another MLS regular, Shane O’Neill of the Colorado Rapids, will anchor the defense after breaking into Colorado’s lineup this season. While Jose Villarreal has excelled for the LA Galaxy this year, scoring and creating goals with ease. He could be the jewel in the crown as the USA aim to win their first U-20 World Cup.

Schedule

USA vs. Spain, Friday June 21, (2 pm ET, ESPN2/Univision Deportes)

USA vs. France, Monday June 24, (11am ET, ESPN2/Univision Deportes)

USA vs. Ghana, Thursday June 27, (1 pm ET, ESPN2/Univision Deportes)

Predictions

The USA have a tough task ahead of them. Spain and France often produce the best young players in the world and their records at this level are pretty enviable. However, the majority of Ramos’ side have now been on the road together for a long time, over a month, as they prepare for the task ahead. Their is a unity and togetherness that could hold them in good stead. If Villarreal and Gil produce the attacking nous they’re known for, the US could pull off a shock and reach the latter stages. But, unfortunately, Group A really is the “Group of Death” and it would require a minor miracle for the USA to qualify. But who knows?

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Big boys to turn up

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Week 26 of the Premier League season is here. This will be a lot of fun with massive games at both ends of the table.

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ]

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 3-2 Leicester City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Norwich City 0-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) –  [STREAM]

Man City 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Sunday 11:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United – (Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Everton 2-1 West Brom  – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Swansea 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Chelsea 3-2 Newcastle – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Ranieri on Leicester City’s dream season: “Nobody wake us up please!”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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There’s plenty to like about Leicester City’s run to the top of the Premier League, but perhaps nothing is more enjoyable that its manager’s musings.

Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman himself, has provided some of the best quips of the season.

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines to look for in PL ]

From “I want to be the crazy man in the Premier League” to “It’s like nobody wants to win the league“, the 64-year-old Italian has offered plenty of beauties.

Make way for some more gems, from LCFC.com:

“I think we work so hard to achieve this level. We want to stay at this level. It’s no pressure for us. The pressure was at the beginning to start well, to carry on and maintain the standard of our performance.
“Now we are safe and we want to fight with respect with all our opponents. Face to face, we play with our strength and they play with theirs. If we win, fantastic. If we lose, next match.
“I think the pressure is on the other teams. We have pressure for our little gap. We continue to dream with our fans and we want to continue to dream. Nobody wake us up please!”
We love this man. To go from a short-lived run in Euro qualifying with Greece to this remarkable roll with Leicester has to be a bit dream-like. We get it. And we love that he’s going with it.